BERLIN – The Conference of Western Balkans States, featuring the participation of senior officials from the region started in Berlin on Thursday.
The conference has begun with panels discussing economic issues, and the host welcoming finance and economy ministers from the Western Balkans and businessmen is Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel.
The panels will discuss issues concerning energy, technology, infrastructure, ways to boost employment, small and medium enterprises, and investments.
Gabriel reiterated the promises from the EU summit in Thessaloniki concerning the region’s European future and he called for more investments in the reagion.
All countries of the Western Balkans have a single European future, but EU accession does not happen automatically, he noted.
It is the result of years of deep reforms, especially in economy, he pointed out, stressing Slovenia as a positive example for the Western Balkan countries.
The nations of the region need more investments to gain long-term momentum, he emphasised, according to a statement from the German Ministry of Economy and Energy.
We focus mostly on strategic areas, like increasing investments and export power, as well as imrpvements in education, he said.
Reliable framework requirements and an efficient energy and transport infrastructure in the region a particularly important in these plans, he remarked.
The focus of the conference is energy supply, which is a very significant issue for the Western Balkans and Europe in general.
According to German media, around 250 representatives of German companies applied to attend the first economic panel.
According to announcements, talking with representatives of the Western Balkan economies will be European Commissioner for Energy Guenther Oettinger.
A meeting of ministers of foreign affairs of the Western Balkan countries will be held as part of the conference. It will be hosted by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and feature the participation of European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele.
We wish to use the meeting as an opportunity to commend the region’s progress towards the EU, Steinmeier said ahead of the meeting.
He stated that the participants would discuss issues that were crucial to the pace and success of the Western Balkan countries on the road to the EU, and also ways to implement necessary reforms within the framework of regional cooperation.
I also want to consult with my counterparts concerning the current “international crisis in our neighborhood,” especially about ways in which common European values and interests can be clearly demonstrated in a single, common European policy, said the German foreign minister.
A meeting of the region’s prime ministers with German Chancellor Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will take place at the German government following the meeting of Western Balkan foreign ministers.
Ahead of the conference, Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the goal of Germany’s initiative was to reinforce the European perspective of the Western Balkans.
We need new impulses for economic and state and legal progress, and for security and reconciliation between states in the region, Merkel said.